Thursday, May 26, 2016

“A Cup of Black Water, Please!”

They say that Ethiopia was the homeland of native wild coffee, and the first reference to coffee drinking or the coffee tree came from Yemen. The origin of the word coffee, therefore, is Arabic. The word qahwah, on its turn, has several etymologies.

It appears that when the Arabic Peninsula fell under Ottoman domination, the Arabic word and the beverage entered the Turkish language, which recorded it as kahve. The Dutch loaned the word as koffie, which probably become the path for the appearance of coffee in the English language at the end of the sixteenth century. The Italians loaned kahve as caffe, which became the root for French café. While the French word means “coffeehouse,” the English language has borrowed café with the meaning of “a small restaurant selling light meals and drinks.”

But the Armenian word for “coffee,” soorj (սուրճ), is completely at odds either with the Arabic and the Turkish words. Its first written references to the word are from 1787-1788.

Soorj constitutes a little mystery for linguists, who have been forced to conclude that perhaps it is an original development. Some scholars have suggested that may be an onomatopoeic word, the kind derived from a natural sound (for instance, the English word crow comes from Old English crawe, imitative of a bird’s cry). Our word soorj would have imitated the sound we do when we drink hot coffee. Another explanation suggests that it was invented by a member of the Mekhitarist Congregation (founded in 1701) on the basis of the words sev choor (սեւ ջուր “black water”). As linguist Hrachia Ajarian remarked in his etymological dictionary, sev choor meant “coffee” in the secret language used of Constantinople, where he was born.

Enjoy your “black water,” but don’t drink it too hot!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Pronouns Are Not Always Necessary

Imagine that you come across the following paragraph: “A young man gets hurt. He goes to the hospital. He is cured by a doctor. He comes out from the hospital. He stops a taxi and goes home. After taking a painkiller, he goes to sleep. The next day, he feels better and goes to work.”

As you may notice, the narration required the use of six pronouns (“he”), one for each sentence. (Of course, we can use connectives like “and” to avoid repetition, but we are not discussing the accurate style of the English sentences here.) This is something common and unavoidable in English. However, it is not the common rule for the Armenian language. Unlike English or French, if you are talking in the first person, for instance, you do not need to say “I” in every single sentence. Armenian, like Spanish or Arabic, is what linguists call a null-subject language, where the subject may be just implicit. Therefore, instead of using an (ան “he”) in every single sentence of the above mentioned paragraph, you can say it in the following way:

“Yeridasart muh guh viravorvi. Hivantanots g’erta. Pujishgi me goghmeh guh poozhvi. Hivantanotsen g’elle. Taxi me guh getsneh yev doon g’erta. Tegh arneleh yedk, g’erta bargeloo. Hachort oruh, aveli lav guh uzka yev kordzi g’erta.”

(Երիտասարդ մը կը վիրաւորուի։ Հիւանդանոց կ՚երթայ։ Բժիշկի մը կողմէ կը բուժուի։ Հիւանդանոցէն կ՚ելլէ։ Թաքսի մը կը կեցնէ եւ տուն կ՚երթայ։ Դեղ առնելէ ետք, կ՚երթայ պառկելու։ Յաջորդ օրը, աւելի լաւ կը զգայ եւ գործի կ՚երթայ)։

As you see, there was not a single pronoun in the paragraph. Of course, you may include one or two, if you feel it necessary. But that is up to you and your personal stylistic preferences. 

This does not mean, of course, that you can suppress the use of pronouns. You should use them when you want to emphasize something or you want to avoid any kind of confusion. For instance, if you needed to translate Leonardo DiCaprio’s famous sentence from Titanic, “I am the king of the world!”, then it would be better to translate it Yes ashkharhi takavorn em (Ես աշխարհի թագաւորն եմ) and not Ashkarhi takavorn em (Աշխարհի թագաւորն եմ), because he wanted to emphasized the “I” first and then the fact of being... “the king of the world.”

As we have said many other times, if Armenian is not your native language and you are learning it, then you need to get the “feeling” of the language, which is different from the “feeling” of the language you learned first, in this case, English. Otherwise, you may risk talking... translated English.